New shelves inside the little barn
How do I answer the question “What do you do?” in my new situation? I can tell people that I am retired although I have a hard time making that word come out of my mouth. The word retired seems too passive – to retire is to go to bed or withdraw, to retreat or remove oneself. OK, I have removed myself from the trading time for money world but I certainly have not gone to bed or withdrawn from the world. The word just seems to be loaded with images of sitting in the living room with my feet up waiting for someone to come visit me so that I will be entertained.
No – that’s not what I am doing.
Someone offered “refocusing your life” but that seems odd also since I try not to spend my time focusing on my life but instead figuring out how to live each day.
One of the challenges for me has been the lack of routine that was so easy when I got up and went to work. The clock was very important. I had to be out of the house by 6:50 to beat the busses so that I could be at my desk at the appropriate time. Lunchtime was 11:30 to avoid the long line of students and have a quiet table to eat with my co-workers. There was always a small congregation around the coffee machine in the mid-afternoon where we chatted about our lives, our children, our spouses and the general state of the world. 5:00 was time to go home and try to fit in the personal living part of my life; the part that wasn’t attached to my paycheck. Days at work looked very similar to each other.
Now my days are filled as I please and I am in charge of what I fill them with. There are still the daily chores; the ones that I used to do on the weekends or in the evening – cooking dinner, laundry, and cleaning. A small part of each day is used to “keep the house”. The rest, I am figuring out.
My energy has been returning as I recover from 6 months of chemo. The garden is always there and patiently lets me sit or weed as I please. Last week, the little barn needed shelves. This week the peaches are ripe. I only focus on the clock now to see when my husband will arrive home from trading his time for money.
Rather than closing the aperture on my life’s lense to “refocus” on something other than work; it seems like it has opened up to its widest setting. With this new time, there is also new possibility, there is new light and new energy. I have only to imagine.
The Little Barn
It’s been quite a summer, this summer of 2013. I have a new shed dubbed the “Little Barn”. I have pints and pints of pickles and dilly beans in the cupboard. The garden is lush and producing as much as we can eat and I can process. I spent a week on the coast of Maine with my new husband (oh ya – I got married…) and another week with my sister in the Maine woods. I am officially retired or “re-focusing my life”. It’s amazing what a bout with cancer will do to shake things up.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last November. Had surgery, 6 months of chemo and that, thank you very much, is enough of that, for now. So – in case you were wondering where I have been – there you go.
I’m not sure where my writing will be taking me. I am jumping in today with the first post in a long time because honestly, it’s too cold outside right now to pick the basil. No promises here – just day by day.
Well – I’m really only stepping up on the stirrups at the moment but that saddle is looking more comfortable every day. At least it’s on the horse!
So I’ve got about three thousand ideas for prints running around in my head at the moment and so now comes the part where I decide how to deal with them.
- Do I write them all down so that I can work on them later?
- Do I work on the most pressing one so that I don’t lose the power of its immediacy?
- Do I clean the studio just a tiny bit more or work around the mess that is still left?
- Do I sketch them all out and file them in the later pile?
- Do I make myself a cup of tea and watch a movie?
All kidding aside, this is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the process for me. After a time of studio drought, when the ideas start coming back and it seems like I could be productive in the studio, where do I begin and how do I keep the ideas from leaking out of my ears and running down the proverbial drain?
The answer in the past has always been to just run with the most urgent ideas. Put ink to plate and just start. Once working, ideas mature and morph into something that just might work on paper.
This year I have a new tool though. For the past year I have been actively working on an art journal. I have been using ink and watercolor to set down emotions and ideas as they come to me. It is an improvisational way of working and it is fast and honestly, very satisfying. The idea that comes to me as I write this is to keep doing what worked in the past; jumping on the most urgent idea and using that to guide me on my next round through the artistic process. Along with that I will add the journal tool to explore some of the other ideas that seem to be more shy, less likely to jump and down and call out “Mememememememeeeee!!!”.
And that worry about ideas leaking out and running down the drain? I just remembered an idea I had at least thirty years ago that still deserves some attention. Sometimes they just won’t go away!
Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to me to have a room of my own to work and play in that allows me to let my hair down and be myself. If you had a chance to read that post and take a look at the pictures of my studio, you might wonder how an actual person could fit into that mess. I know that after I posted those pictures it was one of my first thoughts along with “Oh my! You’re letting other people see that mess?”, and “Do you suppose you can cram anything else into that space?”
So today, I’ll let you in on a little secret, that isn’t really a secret to anyone who’s been to my house. I can be a little messy when I’m working…… OK – I can be quite messy when I’m working………. Alright, alright – I am a slob.
Here’s the cycle. It starts with a lovely clean studio where everything has its place and is obligingly waiting there for my attention. I come in and wander around and admire the studio’s neatness, how clean the floor is and that I can practically dance in there without disturbing any stuff. While I’m dancing around, I notice an idea sidling its way into my attention and I pick out a plate, some ink, a couple of brayers. I might start looking for an image that I remembered seeing in a pile somewhere (who cleaned up in here and where did it go?) or I might start drawing over by the window (oh – how sweet to have counter space just waiting for me!).
Ink is mixed, plates are inked, ink is pushed and wiped and spread. I pull out the glue for my chine colle, the scissors, a number of brushes and cloths to manipulate the ink a bit more. I am now dancing a different dance; the samba of the maker, the rave of creativity. It is a wild dance, this laying down of color and image. It is messy and childlike and fun. It has its origins in fingerpainting and its restraints from the rules of school. I am pulled by ideas, emotions and my senses while my intellect helps with the choreography. I might work on two or even three plates at the same time, letting ideas talk to one another and influence each other’s paths.
When plates are ready, I press them. Prints are laid out on any spare surface to dry. Used plates are inked again using the leftover ink as a starting point for the next print. I might go on this way for days or weeks until …it’s time to clean.
Often there is a break between the mess making and the cleaning up. There are books to be read and weeds to be pulled and the need to take some time to recharge the creative batteries. But at some point I have to face the chaos that I left behind. I pick up, I wash and sort plates. I put everything neatly back into place and vacuum the floor. I touch my books and remember what lies inside of them. I pick up the jars of ink and admire the color as I wipe them down. Brayers are wiped and laid on their backs in order of size and brushes are scrubbed with soap and water and sorted according to their use.
Sometime later, I will wander in again and admire the studio’s neatness.